JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Short week. Cross-country flight. Early start. Bye week looming.
The San Diego Chargers had plenty of reasons to come out flat in Jacksonville.
They avoided all of them. It surely helped that they faced what is shaping up as one of the worst teams in NFL history.
Philip Rivers threw for 285 yards and a touchdown, Ryan Mathews ran for 110 yards and a score, and the surging Chargers beat the inept Jaguars 24-6 Sunday.
“It all starts with the quarterback, and he’s one of the best in the business,” Chargers coach Mike McCoy said. “We’re very fortunate.”
The Chargers (4-3) played nothing like a tired team or one looking ahead. Then again, the Jaguars have made everyone look good.
Jacksonville (0-7) has lost every game this season by double digits, becoming the first team since the 1984 Houston Oilers to garner that dubious distinction. The Oilers lost their first 10 games that year by at least 10 points.
“We didn’t have any enthusiasm,” Jaguars receiver Cecil Shorts III said. “It’s a bad day. Nobody’s going to feel sorry for us. We can’t feel sorry for us.”
Jaguars coach Gus Bradley shouldered the blame for not having his team ready, a feeling he got in pregame warm-ups and in the locker room. Jacksonville was praised for covering a 27-point spread at Denver last week and spent part of this past week preparing for a week-long stay in London.
Unlike the Chargers, the Jaguars failed to handle all the distractions.
“We talk about getting better and we completely missed an opportunity,” Bradley said. “That’s what not getting better looks like. Penalties, missed tackles, missed assignments, spirit, effort. We talk about playing with toughness, playing with effort, playing with enthusiasm and playing smart. That’s our style. I don’t think we did any one of those four today.”
Everyone who’s watched Jacksonville play this season knows it’s a talent-based issue.
The Chargers dominated every aspect of the game.
Rivers completed his first 14 passes, picking apart Jacksonville’s defense with short throws and clock-eating drives. He finished 22 of 26. Mathews topped the century mark for the second consecutive week.
About the only thing that went wrong for San Diego was a failed chance to score just before halftime. Rivers tried to run for the end zone with 7 seconds left on third down, but he was stopped short. That gave Jacksonville some momentum and a sliver of hope heading into the locker room.
It was short-lived.
The Chargers scored on their first two drives of the second half. Rivers, whose TD pass was a 27-yarder to Eddie Royal, made huge plays on both.
“Philip is the wheels on our tank,” tight end Antonio Gates said. “As long as he can continue to play the way he plays and the line continues to protect him like that, we’re going to be just fine.”
Even more impressive: San Diego overcame the loss of two offensive linemen. Left tackle King Dunlap left in the first quarter with a concussion. Mike Remmers replaced him, but went down four plays later with an injury.
The Chargers flopped right tackle D.J. Fluker to the left side, moved right guard Jeromey Clary to right tackle and inserted Rich Ohrnberger in at right guard.
And they didn’t miss a beat.
Mathews’ 3-yard run with 14:08 remaining sent many of the Jacksonville faithful scrambling for the exits early — again. The Jaguars have been outscored 89-11 in three home games.
“We can say we keep doing good things, but if we don’t get a win or get more points on the board, it’s really not doing good things,” Jaguars quarterback Chad Henne said. “We’re really disappointed right now as an offense. … It’s tough to swallow.”
Jacksonville was its own worst enemy.
Defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct following a 1-yard run on a second-and-34 play, giving San Diego an automatic first down. The Jaguars also self-destructed with several sacks in the red zone.
Henne completed 23 of 36 passes for 318 yards, with an interception. He was sacked six times.
Maurice Jones-Drew ran nine times for 37 yards and declined to talk afterward. Shorts had eight receptions for 80 yards, but also dropped two slant passes in the end zone. Justin Blackmon caught six passes for 58 yards. The Jaguars had Jones-Drew, Shorts, Blackmon and tight Marcedes Lewis — the team’s top four playmakers — in the lineup together for the first time this season.
It hardly changed the outcome.
San Diego, meanwhile, has consecutive wins for the first time this season.
“We’re starting to build somewhat of an identity, a little bit of an attitude,” Rivers said.
Notes: Rivers, whose wife hasn’t gone into labor with their seventh child, became the second quarterback in franchise history to throw for 30,000 yards. … Jaguars C Brad Meester made his 200th career start. … The Chargers have won both East Coast trips this season. They have two remaining.